By Wendy Eichenbaum
Imagine you’re on a business trip. You return to your hotel room exhausted after a long day of meetings. You look across the room to see a light on by your bed, the sheets turned down, and a chocolate mint on your pillow. It’s just a mint, or is it?
It’s the little details that people remember. People don’t tell their friends that the room was clean or that the bathroom had enough towels. But they will pass on the memory that made the experience special and out of the ordinary. These little details are micro-interactions, just one action or moment. One alone can be memorable. Added up, they can define a world-class experience.
Microinteractions can be solutions to pain points exhibited by competitors. For instance, when I rented a car at an airport, I spent many minutes at the counter declining of all the extras the representative listed. The next time I traveled, I chose another rental company where I checked in at a kiosk, quickly declined the extras, and was at my car in minutes. Can you guess which company I used on the following trip?
These interactions also are integral parts of the user experience in software design. Imagine that the alarm on your cell phone goes off. Do you have to unlock the phone, navigate to the alarm feature, and finally press the stop button as the alarm continues to blare? Or do you simply press a stop (or snooze) button on the locked home screen? And consider when you search to find nearby restaurants. Do you want to enter the zip code, if you even know it, or just press the “nearby” button?
The importance of microinteractions cannot be understated. The users may not be able articulate why they chose one product, service, or company over another. But they feel when they love one service or hate another. If you ask people why they love or hate something, they’ll tell you a story, which will describe one superior or frustrating interaction.
When designing a microinteraction, you need to consider four areas. These areas were identified by interaction designer and author Dan Saffer, who wrote the book on this topic.
- Trigger: Initiates an action
- Rules: What happens in the interaction
- Feedback: How you know what’s happening
- Loop & Modes: What happens next
For our alarm example, the trigger is that the alarm app has been set for 6am and the phone detects that it’s now 6am. The rule is that the alarm emits a sound. The feedback is that you hear the sound and view a button on the screen to stop or snooze the alarm. The loop is that the app turns off the sound, and then stops or goes into sleep mode.
And this works for any type of interaction, even service experiences. (Trigger) At a designated time, the housekeeping service enters a room to complete the turndown service. (Rules) The housekeeper turns on the bedside light, turns down the sheets, and places a mint on top of the pillow. (Feedback) The customer notices the bed area once back in the room. (Loop) The customer feels valued, and considers the stay a great experience.
Microinteractions are the key to a great customer experience. Users are delighted when an experience yields a positive, exceptional moment, and they are likely to relate that moment to friends. Focus on each interaction to create a complete customer experience.
About the Author
Wendy Eichenbaum has been a UX professional since the early-1990’s. She began her career as a technical writer. She then earned a Master of Arts in Professional Writing at Carnegie Mellon University, studying both writing and UI design. Over the years, she has worked across verticals, from start-ups to multi-national firms, in many areas of UX including research & strategy, Information Architecture, usability testing, and focus groups. She started her own UX consulting firm in 2008, Ucentric Design. And she is an adjunct professor at Cal State University, Fullerton. There she teaches a class that she created, User-Centered Design for Web and Mobile Interfaces.